The ultimate caramel popcorn! With a thin, crispy, even coating of caramel on every piece, this caramel corn stays crispy for weeks. Make this with or without corn syrup – I’ve discovered the perfect substitute that works 100% perfectly!
Caramel corn is a terrific grazing dessert for gatherings. And because it stays fresh for weeks, it makes for a sensational food gift!!
I make caramel popcorn a LOT all throughout the year. I make it for:
- gifting – just a pure act of kindness without any ulterior motives;
- bribing – when I’m trying to sway decisions / get in or stay in someone’s good graces. (This happens more than I care to admit 😂); and
- dessert for gatherings – it’s a brilliant grazing option for dessert so your family and friends don’t need to commit to a huge slice of chocolate cake because they’re stuffed full from dinner!
The reason it makes such a regular appearance around here is because it ticks a lot of boxes:
- long shelf life – 100% crispy for 2 – 3 weeks;
- is low effort to make a fair volume (this makes about 11 – 12 cups);
- it’s gluten free (useful for gatherings / gifting); and
- everybody loves it – young and old!
This stuff is CRAZY addictive!!
Why this is THE Caramel Corn recipe
If you’ve ever made caramel popcorn and ended up with uneven globs of caramel on the popcorn which ends up stuck in your teeth – I feel your pain.
I’ve been there and done that, and it was many years before I discovered the secret to perfect, crispy, evenly coated caramel corn:
- BAKING SODA (aka bi-carbonate soda, or bi-carb for short); and
Baking soda is the secret to an even, thin coating of caramel on the popcorn. When it’s added to the caramel, it makes it foam up so it increases in volume and makes it easier to coat the popcorn more evenly.
The baking part serves two purposes:
- Coat popcorn evenly – initially, the caramel remelts so when you toss the popcorn, it coats the popcorn more evenly and thinly (thanks to the baking soda!); and
- Crispy caramel and popcorn – during the 2nd half of baking time, the caramel and popcorn dries out, making the thin caramel coating AND popcorn super crisp. This caramel corn stays crispy for WEEKS!
What you need for Caramel Popcorn
Here’s what you need. Not very much stuff!!
For those of you outside of the US and Canada who can’t get corn syrup, don’t fret. Glucose is a 100% perfect substitute. I make caramel popcorn quite regularly (food gifting!) so I stock up on corn syrup when I visit the States. But I always run out.
So I had to find a substitute. And after making dozens and dozens of batches with glucose, I am happy to report that glucose is a perfect substitute for corn syrup!
(If you’re wondering why you need corp syrup, its purpose is to ensure the caramel doesn’t crystallise ie instead of turning into liquid, you end up with sugar grains. Caramel is easy but can be temperamental. Corn syrup makes it a sure thing. 🙂 )
How to make Caramel Popcorn
- Pop your popcorn kernels using your method of choice – stove or popcorn maker, if you have one (I do, but for some reason digging it out of the back of the cupboard seems like more effort than cooking the popcorn on the stove);
- Make caramel – simmer butter, sugar and corn syrup or glucose;
- Whisk in baking soda to make the caramel foam up!
- Toss popcorn with caramel – just do the best you can here, the caramel will harden as it cools. Don’t worry if it’s not evenly coated, we do this in the next step;
- Bake 45 minutes, tossing 3 – 4 times – this makes the caramel coat the popcorn evenly, then makes the caramel and popcorn crisp so it stays crispy for 2+ weeks!
Caramel warning: handle with care because that molten goodness is mighty hot! So don’t be tempted to stick your finger in for a taste test!
Full coverage vs lighter coating
The popcorn you see pictured in the photos and in the video has full caramel coverage. Meaning, the ratio of caramel to popcorn is such that it’s intended that every piece of popcorn is coated with caramel.
Full coverage caramel popcorn is very sweet! It’s made with 1/3 cup kernels, 10 cups popcorn, and is literally like candy. If you eat it by the handful like Butter Popcorn, chances are you will regret it….unless you have a major sweet tooth!
I usually go full coverage when I’m gifting to people I don’t know that well (ie usually work related bribing😈) because it looks better.
For my own personal purposes, for my family and friends, for gifting to people I know, I do a lighter coverage. Lighter coverage popcorn has visible white splotches because you don’t get full coverage. It’s made with 3/4 cup kernels and it is definitely still sweet and indulgent.
No one has ever had my Lighter Coverage caramel popcorn and said “that’s not sweet enough”! – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
More Popcorn recipes
Recipe video above. The secret to a great caramel popcorn that’s evenly coated with caramel with a thin, crispy coating of caramel (rather that globs of sticky caramel) is baking soda and baking the popcorn to dry it out. This caramel corn stays crispy for 2+ weeks!!!
CARAMEL COVEREAGE: Use 1/3 cup kernels for full caramel coverage (very sweet, like candy pieces), 3/4 cup for “normal” (see in post for photo and description).
For the popcorn
- 1/4 cup (60ml) vegetable oil ((not required if air popping with a popcorn maker))
- 1/3 cup popping corn ((10 cups popcorn, Note 1 for lighter caramel coverage))
For the caramel
- 100g / 7 tbsp butter (, unsalted)
- 1 cup (220g) brown sugar (, packed)
- 1/2 cup (170g) corn syrup (, light (substitute glucose, Note 2))
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add a few pieces of popcorn and wait until it pops, then quickly remove.
Add remaining popcorn, elevate off stove to shake and spread corn out evenly. Cover with a lid. Once the popcorn starts popping in earnest, shake the pot gently once.
Remove from heat when the popping stops (when you can count to 3 between pops) and transfer to a (very!) large bowl. You need 10 cups of popcorn.
Preheat oven to 110°C/230°F.
Melt butter in a saucepaan over medium heat.
Add sugar, corn syrup and salt. Stir until just combined.
When it starts to bubble, simmer for 4 minutes – DO NOT STIR!
Remove from heat then quickly whisk in vanilla and baking soda. When you stop whisking, the caramel will foam and increase in volume.
Quickly pour straight over popcorn, toss until caramel cools and starts to harden.
Baking to crisp:
Spread popcorn on 2 baking trays.
Bake for 45 minutes, tossing every 10 minutes or so. Caramel will remelt for the first 2-3 tosses – tossing coats popcorn more evenly with caramel. (If using glucose, bake further 15 minutes).
Remove from oven, leave to cool. Gently break into pieces and serve. Stays crisp 2 – 3 weeks!
1. Caramel coverage – 1/3 cup popcorn kernels will give you full caramel coverage on each popcorn. This makes the popcorn like candy – it’s very sweet! I use 3/4 cups popcorn for “normal” coverage – it’s still sweet, but not intensely sweet where every piece feels like you’re eating candy. See in post for photo comparison.
2. Corn Syrup is called for to stabilise the caramel to ensure sugar crystallisation doesn’t occur. Corn syrup is a common grocery item in the US and Canada – I stock up every time I go! It can be purchased online in Australia from USAFoods.com.au (here).
Glucose is a perfect substitute for corn syrup which is available in Australian supermarkets (baking aisle, clear thick syrup with honey consistency). However, the popcorn needs to be baked for 15 minutes longer (because glucose as higher water content).
3. Storage – stays 100% crisp and fresh for 2 – 3 weeks in an airtight container!
Originally published May 2014, updated September 2019 with new photos, new video and slight improvements to recipe!
Life of Dozer
Today’s selfie attempt….
I’m so grateful food doesn’t move!! 😂